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Home :: Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa - Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

The term anorexia nervosa was first coined in 1988. A doctor writing in the British medical journal The Lancet used the term to describe people who, although thin and weak, insisted that they needed to lose weight and would not eat a sufficient amount of food to remain alive. Anorexia nervosa is a nervous, psychological eating disorder characterized by a refusal to eat, even to the point of starvation. Other symptoms include an intense fear of becoming fat that never goes away, no matter how thin the individual becomes; extreme over activity and an obsession with working out; negative feelings about the way the body looks; deep feelings of shame; and problems with drug and/ or alcohol abuse. Ninety-five percent of the people who suffer from this disorder are female. Anorexia typically appears during adolescence.

The incidence of eating disorders, particularly among young women in the United States, has escalated dramatically during the past decade. An estimated 8 million Americans struggle with anorexia, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Diseases (ANAD). And eating disorders are not limited to teenage girls. Women aged forty and older are also susceptible. Doctors suspect that low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, may be the cause, producing psychological problems linked to anorexia and bulimia.

Some people with anorexia just quit eating; some make themselves vomit immediately after eating; some take laxatives after eating; and some do all three. Most people with anorexia have normal feelings of hunger at the onset of the disease but teach themselves to ignore them. Despite their refusal to eat, people with anorexia often become obsessed with food and may spend hours fantasizing about it, reading recipes, or even preparing elaborate meals for others. Another characteristic feature of the disorder is that people with anorexia usually deny that there is anything wrong and claim that they simply "aren't hungry" and even insist that they need to lose more weight.

Many females who are anorexic are also bulimic. Bulimia nervosa is defined as the consumption of extremely large quantities of food in short periods of time (binging), followed by self-induced vomiting or the use of either diuretics or cathartics (purging). If anorexia and bulimia occur in the same individual, the disorder is called bulimarexia.

Anorexia can lead to underweight, extreme weakness, dizziness, cessation of menstruation, swelling of the neck, ulcers and erosion of the esophagus, erosion of the enamel of the back teeth from repeated vomiting, broken blood vessels in the face, and a low pulse rate and blood pressure. In some extreme cases, spoons or sticks used to induce vomiting have become stuck in the digestive tract and have had to be surgically removed. Systemic physiological changes in those suffering from anorexia include thyroid dysfunction, disturbances in the heartbeat, and irregularity in the secretion of growth hormone and the hormones cortisol, gonadotropin, and vasopressin.

Eventually, if anorexic behavior continues long enough, classic complications associated with starvation appear. Electrolyte imbalances created by insufficient potassium and sodium levels cause dehydration, muscle spasms, and, ultimately, cardiac arrest. If laxatives are used, these further deplete the body of potassium. Hypokalemia (potassium deficiency) is a major problem for people with anorexia. Chronic hypokalemia can cause an irregular heartbeat, which can lead to heart failure and death.

Initially, anorexia nervosa was thought to be strictly a psychological problem. However, in the last few years, medical scientists and nutritionists have identified several physical components as well. For example, people with eating disorders have been found to have chemical imbalances similar to those found in individuals with clinical depression. Some cases of anorexia have been found to be caused by severe zinc deficiency.

As researchers become increasingly aware of the physiological elements of anorexia, the psychological ones continue to be important. Teasing by peers or parents can play a role in making individuals obsessed with the idea that they are fat. In addition;. many people who suffer from anorexia display great fear at the prospect of growing up, and girls often have difficult mother/daughter relationships. Some may try to live up to images their parents set for them, but feel inadequate-that they are not as beautiful or intelligent as their parents want them to be. A girl with anorexia may then develop an inferiority complex, seeing herself as fat and/ or ugly, and no amount of common sense or persuasion can alter her distorted mental image.

About 30 percent of all people with anorexia struggle with the disorder all their lives. Another 30 percent have at least one life-threatening bout with it, while the remaining 40 percent outgrow it. Even if an individual recovers fully from the acute phase of the disorder, serious damage may have been done to the body.

Signs and symptoms of Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious medical condition that requires treatment. The first step in getting help is recognizing that there is a problem. The following are characteristic warning signs of this condition.

  • Self-starvation and weight loss.
  • Intense, persistent fear of gaining weight.
  • Continuous dieting.
  • Excessive growth of facial or body hair because of inadequate protein in diet.
  • Cessation of menstruation or irregular periods.
  • Broken blood vessels in the face.
  • Preoccupation with food.
  • Refusal to eat, except tiny portions.
  • Compulsive exercising.
  • Abnormal weight loss.
  • Sensitivity to cold.
  • Hair loss.
  • Erosion of the enamel of back teeth.

Treatment for Anorexia nervosa

Suggested dosage
Vitamin C with
5,000 mg daily
in divided doses.
Needed for the impaired immune system and to alleviate stress on the adrenal glands.
Kelp 2,000-3,000 mg daily Needed for mineral replacement and thyroid function.
Vitamin E 600 IU daily Increases oxygen uptake in the body for healing and a powerful antioxidant. Use d-aplha-tocopherol form
  • To rebuild the liver and cleanse the bloodstream, use dandelion, milk thistle, red clover, or wild yam.
  • The following herbs are appetite stimulants: ginger root, ginseng, gotu kola, and peppermint. Caution: Do not use ginseng if you have high blood pressure.
  • While a normal eating pattern is being established, eat a well-balanced diet that is high in fiber. Eat plenty of fresh raw fruits and vegetables. These foods are cleansing to the system. When the body is cleansed, the appetite tends to return to normal.
  • Be sure to eat adequate amounts of healthy protein foods, such as fish and soy protein. Quality protein is important for repairing body tissues and restoring lost muscle mass.
  • St. John's wort and kava kava calm the nervous system and aid in preventing depression.

Considerations and prevention tips

  • Consume no sugar, and avoid white flour products.
  • Seek out a practitioner or practitioners who specialize in the treatment of eating disorders and who can address me complex of physical and psychological elements involved. Some type of specialized counseling, in addition to nutritional counseling, is usually necessary for recovery.
  • Starvation tends to increase feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability, and anger. It may take up to a year or more for a person recovering from anorexia to improve his or her body image, to reestablish normal eating patterns, and to reverse the effects of starvation on mood and behavior.
  • If an individual shows any of the signs of anorexia, he or she should be seen by a physician.
  • Researchers have found that zinc supplementation not only decreases depression and anxiety, but that anorexic women taking zinc gain twice as much weight, on average, as anorexic women who do not take the supplement. Zinc, whether as part of the diet or in supplemental form, has been successful in helping many individuals with anorexia to regain their normal appetite and weight. Zinc deficiency by itself, however, does not result in anorexia nervosa.
  • Avoid processed and junk foods. The additives these foods contain tend to add to the aversion to eating.

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